Bishop Bill, in his introduction to the Mass outlined how important he considers this celebration to be, linking it to the annual Chrism Mass during Holy Week and the Called to Serve Mass for the Catholic Schools system at the commencement of each year.
The Mass commenced with a liturgical movement presented by students from St Joseph’s Primary School, Bulahdelah. It set the scene for a truly beautiful celebration of those of our students who access learning support services across our diocese.
The Holy Name Church was packed with special needs students, their parents and family members, learning support coordinators, teachers and assistants, Principals and staff from our schools, CSO Learning Support staff, students leaders from our Manning Region schools and students who provided music, singing and movement along with parishioners from the Manning region.
At the end of the Mass I was approached by a father of a student at one of our Manning schools who related to me how well his daughter has developed in the 3 years she has attended a Catholic School due to the commitment and expertise of the staff of her school.
Such stories are often passed on to me and they reflect the quality of the learning support programs we have in our diocesan schools. At present the enrolment of students with a disability in our diocese exceeds the average percentage of students with such needs across NSW in both the Catholic and State systems.
Celebrations such as the Special Needs Mass highlight the gifts that these young people bring to our school communities, gifts that help our schools recognise the unity and diversity that enable them to be truly Christian communities. Unity and Diversity was the well-chosen theme for the Mass.
This was the 18th Special Needs Mass held in the diocese and all but one of these Masses have been celebrated by our Bishop. Such is the importance that Bishops Malone and Wright have given and continue to give to this celebration.
It was and remains an initiative of the Federation of Parents and Friends Association’s Special Needs Working Party and I thank the Chair of the working party, Mrs Cheryl Murphy and the Parent Liaison Officer, Cath Garrett-Jones for their commitment to this annual celebration.
To the Principals and staff of the Manning Region I say a very special thank you for all that you did to ensure this was a celebration that will remain with those present for years to come. In particular I acknowledge Genevieve Williamson, the Religious Education Coordinator at Holy Name Primary School, Forster for coordinating the Mass with the other schools, the parish, our RE and Spirituality Team and the diocese.
I gratefully acknowledge the students from St Clare’s High School who provided the music and a choir along with students from all of our Manning schools who joined with St Clare’s students at various times throughout the Mass.
It was a beautiful celebration and to all involved I say a very sincere thank you.